Education for a culture of peace through endogenous values and mechanisms

Kôrêdugaw at Sénoufo Centre

With the multiplicity of values proposed for our society today, it is no longer easy to define education. With the current tendency to relativise everything, how can we determine the appropriate education or distinguish between right and wrong? In this article, concerning the values and practices of the Senoufo people of yesteryear, we propose endogenous values and mechanisms as a possible way of inculcating a culture of peace.

The Senoufos of old

In the past, in Mali, as in several other Black African communities, a child’s education aimed to make the youngster a full member of the community, aware of their rights and duties towards society. This period of education is called “initiation”. For the Senufo people, initiation is an opportunity to pass the child the values necessary for integration into the community. They are taught the history of their village, the art of living, the art of governing, pharmacopoeia, how to fabricate work instruments or tools, and exercises to develop stamina. In other words, for the Senufo people, initiation is a social contract between society and the individual. It is a sort of university where a member of society receives the enlightenment that transforms him from his animal state (pre-social state) to the human state (human nature).

Similarly, to ensure the continuity and social harmony of the community, every adult must participate in the integral education of the child. Thus, the Senufo child of yesteryear belonged to the whole of society, and their education was a communal task. According to Holas Bohumil [“Les Senoufo (y compris les Minianka)”, l’Harmatan, Paris, 1957], initiation among the Senoufo consisted of providing technical and philosophical formation for citizens so that they would be dignified by a social order based on specific values. For Roland Colin [Kénédougou, “Visage du monde des Sénoufo du Nord au tournant de l’histoire”, in: Sénoufo du Mali, Paris, Revue Noire Éditions, 2006, pp. 80-87], this kind of education was the most complete unifying system ensuring social order between generations, between the sexes, between humans and genies. In short, the aim was a holistic education: the education of each individual person and the whole person”. The ultimate aim of education in the past was primarily to ensure harmony, including peace, within the community and between communities.

To achieve this, traditional society had shared values and mechanisms that enabled it to distinguish between good and evil and to build a peaceful society. For example, among the Senoufo, the Great Hornbill (Zhigban / Zhigbannawo in Senoufo) is the bird symbolic of a successful education. The Great Hornbill symbolises fertility, wisdom and security through its ritual virtue. Its shape makes each of its limbs a melting pot of appropriate teachings for young initiates:

-Its large head symbolises “good memory”: the young initiate must be able to retain the teachings.

-Its closed beak, resting on its belly, represents the mastery of its language: the young initiate must master his language, be discreet and above all, be careful not to reveal what he has learnt in the sacred grove.

-The hornbill’s spread wings show that it is prepared to fly. This is advice that the young initiate should always be ready to work; it’s a way of saying to him, ‘Don’t beg but feed yourself! ‘

-The straight legs are symbols of the uprightness and honesty that the initiate must embrace: he must not lie, steal or commit adultery.

The situation today

The situation is bitter. It is a fact that several young people today have no bearing! They are at odds with their cultural roots and societal values, which are at the root of many conflicts that undermine our society today. Ignorant of codes of ethics, citizenship, and patriotism, young people are often victims of ideological and financial manipulation, easily recruited into banditry, delinquency, and scenes of extremism.

These days, we helplessly witness the lack of majestic values and teaching mechanisms in the image of those attributed to the Great Hornbill. We note, however, that the current situation of war and inter-community conflict in Mali has awakened the conscience of several religious, political, and traditional leaders. Malian society, in particular, is becoming increasingly aware that effective education and the sustainable and respectful development of any human society depend, first and foremost, on the understanding of one’s own culture.

The Church in Mali, in general, and the Missionaries of Africa Society, in particular, are not left on the sidelines. They contribute and participate in the awakening of consciences and a culture of peace and social cohesion while constantly promoting the endogenous mechanisms of our cultures, mainly through the ministry of inculturation. For example, the strategic pastoral plans of almost all the dioceses in Mali place particular emphasis on rebuilding the social order based on the values of our own cultures. This is both an invitation to rediscover the values of our cultural practices and a call for responses informed by Gospel values.

Malian society’s cultural richness and endogenous mechanisms are invaluable and can be genuine vectors for consolidating peace and peaceful coexistence. For example, several Malian communities have endogenous mechanisms such as sinankunya (a joking relationship), maaya (humanism), jatigiya (hospitality) and koreduganya (a traditional brotherhood responsible for conflict prevention and management). These are just some of the ways and means that have unfortunately been torn apart by the violence that has plagued Mali for over ten years. Now more than ever, the Church is called upon to rediscover these endogenous values and mechanisms and propose ways of evangelising that are more accessible to its contemporaries, especially the cream of our society, our young people.

The Centre Culturel Sénoufo in Sikasso (CRSPCS), the Centre d’Etude de Langue (CEL) in Faladjé – Kolokani, the Institut de Formation Islamo-chrétienne (IFIC) and the Centre Foi et Rencontre (CFR) in Bamako, the fruit of initiatives by the Missionaries of Africa, are among the platforms for learning and deepening these societal values of peaceful coexistence. The existence of these structures is not only a palpable testimony to the Church’s desire to rebuild the social order scorned by violence but also to allow Malian society to deepen its knowledge of others in their differences.

By: Bruno Ssennyondo, M.Afr.

Senoufo Centre and IFIC with the Muslim community at Sikasso
Calao

To nurture dreams of a better tomorrow

While peace may not be of particular worry to some people, given that the realities of their living environment do not seem to frustrate their desire for well-being, it must be stressed that it is a treasure that is hard to come by for many men and women, such as those in South Sudan, who have suffered disastrous fratricidal conflicts for decades. It is impossible to live in such an environment without asking the existential question of education for a culture of peace.

This overview of South Sudanese society shows that education and a culture of peace are imperative for human society in general, particularly for South Sudan, given that it is impossible to lead a fulfilling life without peace. Indeed, peace education is an urgent appeal to family and parental responsibility. In this case, searching for a healthy and fulfilling environment is not an option but a priority. To this end, all human values will be imprinted on the consciousness of children, who are said to be adults in miniature, within the family unit and from an early age, with a great sense of responsibility. So, children will grow up with the values inculcated in them: human, intellectual, professional, and spiritual. All the components of society must be considered in this essential undertaking of peace education.

It must also be understood that the well-being of any human society is founded and perpetuated by the good conduct of its daughters and sons, who depend on the education they have received. This education for peace must be cultivated to last in space and time. This also presupposes the creation and promotion of solid and humanising institutions. This need is even more urgent in countries disarticulated by armed conflict, such as South Sudan.

South Sudan

Although South Sudan is a young independent state, it has suffered profound social upheaval undermining its social and national unity since its birth. Having been marginalised for a long time in education, the key to growth and development, by the Sudanese authorities before its independence, it is sad to note that formal education is still a luxury for these people. This lack of formal education in a country traumatised by war is, in our opinion, a breeding ground for violence. It fosters ethnic narcissism and a spirit of revenge. Unfortunately, far from working to eradicate violence in all its forms, we are instead witnessing, helplessly, the amplification of conflicts.

As far as we are concerned, the Diocese of Malakal, in the administrative region of Jonglei, where our parish is located, is the epicentre of violence. Violence in churches related to succession, livestock theft, abduction and abuse of children, ethnic clashes, conflicts related to land appropriation, forced marriages, abuse of women, vulnerable people and foreigners. The lack of education seems to be one of the main reasons for this disturbing situation. To this end, our pastoral work has adopted education for a culture of peace as a priority objective.

We are therefore convinced that one of the best ways of breaking the chains of violence, promoting peace and working towards reconciliation is to establish a school for holistic education. However, we are doing things differently until we have the necessary resources to build the school. The focus of our pastoral approach is peace. For example, we make the most of the homily to speak to desperate hearts, encouraging fraternity and a positive change in the way we look at others, which cannot be an option but a priority if we want to make good use of the opportunities to calm hearts and heal the environment in which we live.

Collaborating with the diocese and some partners, we have also organised healing sessions for the traumas and other scourges undermining South Sudanese society. Our parishioners and neighbours also took part in them. We also organised sessions for young people. And finally, we organised a children’s day, which was a success despite the meagre resources available. Regarding the children in particular, we resolved to have a weekly programme with them, and between early December and now, we have noticed an increase in attendance. We wanted the children’s programme to be inclusive, aiming to promote peace. To this end, their parents have expressed their gratitude to us for our contribution to their children’s education, while at the same time asking us to build a school which, for them and us too, would be the ideal setting for realising such a dream.

There is a strong link between peace and sustainable development. Indeed, one cannot be a reality without the other. They are even the stumbling blocks to coexistence. From this point of view, the best attitude to adopt and inculcate is respect for human life and its promotion because, as we say, man is an end and not a means. It is in this context that we approach our pastoral activities. In fact, we have organised sessions to promote peace and justice and to equip families to be the basic cells of peace. As part of our efforts to promote peace, we organise traditional songs and dances for children and sports for young people. We want to have a school in the future where knowledge, manners and skills are transmitted to the young. We also express the need for a vocational training centre for young people to bring about a change of perspective. While idleness and the lack of opportunities to nurture dreams of a better tomorrow lead them to violence, we hope that vocational training could, on the contrary, turn them into actors for peace.

We are convinced that education remains a reliable means of paving the way for sustainable development and promoting peace and human life, as in Southern Sudan. On the strength of this conviction, we take this opportunity to ask anyone who is convinced of the need for education and the training of young people to support our mission in a country dislocated by the horrors of war and where the future of not only of the Church but of humanity as a whole, is being sorely questioned. 

By: Nare Mohamadi Jean Dieudonné, M.Afr.

Roma Cura Roma: Small Actions Make a Difference

On 11 May 2024, the Rome municipal authority organized a clean-up of the city. Roma Cura Roma (“Rome takes care of Rome”) is an important city event dedicated to the collective care of streets, squares, parks and green areas. Among the many volunteers who participated in the event were the Missionaries of Africa residing in the Generalate. They worked together with other members of the Via Aurelia Pilgrims group, especially the Marist Sisters and the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa (MSOLA).

At 9:00 am we gathered in front of our Generalate, collected the tools needed and moved towards the indicated areas for work. The chosen area was the path that leads to the Valle Aurelia metro station (Via Pietro Ciriaci). The stairs in front of Via Agostino Richelmy, which descend into Via Anastasio II towards the Post Office were also part of our initiative (cf. https://www.romacura.roma.it/partecipanti/missionari-dafrica-padri-bianchi-via-aurelia-pilgrims/).

The work took us more than two hours, lasting till 12:00 pm, to clean the street leading to the Valle Aurelia metro station and the one that goes to the post office. Our initiative involved cutting the grass, collecting trash, scrubbing, sweeping the street, unblocking gutters, etc. We eventually collected bags filled with plastics, glass bottles, plants, dry leaves, etc. Everything that was compostable, was brought to the compost in our garden. Passersby were often surprised to see us working. One time, one of them gave an incentive of 5 € to buy drinking water since working under the sun can be dehydrating. The organizers of Roma Cura Roma are always grateful for our generosity and the work done. Rakes, plastic brooms, plastic rubbish bags and other materials for the work were given and collected from Piazza Sempione, Rome.

“Small actions make a difference”, argued a volunteer who joined our event. Our initiative was a response to Pope Francis’ call to care for our common home. His Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ and Apostolic Exhortation Laudate Deum call for a radical ecological conversion. An ecological metanoia involves listening to the cry of the vulnerable and the earth. How? By doing simple things such as cleaning the neighborhood, reducing waste, tracking how many hours are spent on devices to save energy, planting more native and fruit trees, etc., in the hope that such actions will ignite personal and community transformation.

It is worth recalling that last year, around the same time, the Missionaries of Africa took a similar initiative. As earlier stated, Roma Cura Roma is a day dedicated to the voluntary care of streets, squares, parks, and green areas of the city. This year’s 3rd edition, according to ROMA of Saturday, 11 May 2024, more than 300 initiatives were registered, bringing together 16.000 participants.

By: Prosper Harelimana, M. Afr.

When the righteous multiply, the people rejoice

Context

We are experiencing significant upheavals that affect all aspects of life in society because, as they say, social facts are total and global; for example, an economic crisis can destabilise the educational and security structure and compromise integral development, the foundation of peace. We, therefore, need to understand that talking about education and the culture of peace is analysing the education system hic et nunc and effectively integrating it into the formation of consciences concerning human rights, the promotion of values that guarantee justice for all peoples, and the creation of a stable economic environment for all. In short, to ensure integral development and prevent crises that could undermine peace initiatives.

We want to mention a few educational programmes such as Human Rights and Citizenship Education (EDHC) implemented in Ivory Coast to facilitate the transition towards a culture of peace; the Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up in 1996 by Nelson Mandela to promote National Unity and Reconciliation in South Africa; The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR), set up to promote peace and reconciliation during the inter-Congolese dialogue in April 2002; El Centro de Justicia para la Paz y el Desarrollo (CEPAD), set up in 2006 in Mexico (Jalisco) to ensure access to truth, justice and support for victims of torture and families of missing persons. These educational programmes have, without doubt, contributed significantly to the promotion of peace and social integration. However, their scope has often been limited by political and economic constraints.

The culture of peace at risk

The rise of tensions in the world is worrying and raises questions. Is education equipped to meet the challenges of promoting a culture of peace? Education is, first and foremost, a process of laying the foundations for coexistence, justice for all, opportunities for all, and conflict resolution to guarantee harmony in societies. Education, along with truth, enables openness to the realities of the world and an authentic social praxis. Unfortunately, education is akin to a culture of information without constructive criticism. In other words, it is reduced to training professionals for the job market to the detriment of different values of social integration. We are confronted with an education focusing on production, which becomes the yardstick of success. Such an education, whose main objective is to make money, has yet to contribute to the integral development and protection of the culture of peace.

Another factor that undermines the culture of peace is the economic crisis. The lack of resources and financial independence puts many communities at risk of destabilisation and implosion, as in the case of networks of kidnappers. The media bring us daily news of families whose members are in the hands of kidnappers. This is a growing problem in the context of our mission and many other parts of the world. The proliferation of kidnappers is a consequence of the economic crisis, social frustration and friction. In short, structures of injustice are often at the root of this breakdown, making it challenging to promote a culture of peace.

There is also the migration crisis. Mexico is a corridor that many migrants use to enter the United States. Thousands of refugees from Latin America and Haiti travel on foot and by train, pushing the limits of human effort to the very limit to reach the border between Mexico and the United States. It’s a dangerous crossing, sometimes without success. These refugees, crushed by misery, are often victims of drug cartels and other criminal organisations for economic gain or mass recruitment.

Building a culture of peace

Having described the context, followed by an analysis of some of the facts that undermine efforts to promote a culture of peace, we will now look at some of the actions undertaken by the local Church through committed religious and lay people. Our two communities in Mexico have small cells where we welcome people who want to talk, offering them a place to listen. Many people want to speak to us. We direct our candidates to help in this area, along with some religious and lay people involved in refugee reception structures. The involvement of our candidates is part of the academic curriculum for the formation of human values such as voluntary service, helping people in difficult situations, respect for human life and so on. Once a year, the Justice and Peace Commission organises a march in which confreres participate as a form of solidarity for true peace and justice for all.

We launch missionary calendars in several parishes in the diocese from October to January, with a message that incarnates a missionary approach centred on interculturality as an expression of the desire to live together. It should be emphasised that peace is a universal culture that needs people to pass it on from one generation to the next through a selfless education based on the deep-rooted values of truth, freedom, justice for all, and so on. “When the righteous multiply, the people rejoice; but when the wicked prevail, the people groan” (Prov. 29:2). Despite the complexity of the structures that give rise to refugee movements, inter-community conflicts and social upheavals, we must remain hopeful, because the action of people of goodwill through holistic training is like a tiny seed of hope. The main challenges of the future are respect for human rights and peace.

By: Raphaël Muteba, M.Afr.

Education and a culture of peace

This subject, education and a culture of peace is vital and remains topical in the Gospel we are called to proclaim in and out of season. It is part of the being of the Church and its action in the world as a gift of Christ Jesus. It is her way of living and radiating peace that she becomes an educator of peace, inculcated in the values of the cultures she is sent to. That’s why we Missionaries of Africa feel so comfortable when we learn local languages, the doors through which we enter local cultures to announce the Good News and the Peace of the Risen Christ!

We need to think back to how often we mention the word “peace” during our liturgical celebrations: “Peace be with you” or the following prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles: ‘I leave you Peace, my Peace I give you’; look not on our sins but on the faith of your Church; Your will may be done, grant her peace and unity according to your will, who live and reign forever and ever”. Then, we give ourselves the peace of Christ. We live and give what we have received from Christ. We continue to live it in his light with our mother, the Church.

The following summarises my experience during the post-election inter-ethnic conflicts in Kenya in 2008-2013. At the time, I was a formator in our formation house in Nairobi/Balozi. With the Association of Psychologists of Kenya, of which I am a member, we visited a lot of IDP camps to provide psychological support and material assistance. We received a great deal of support from the local Church.

The Christian religion, an agent of peace on a global scale

On a global scale, religious actors play an important role in peace education, bringing people together to manage conflicts. They are in the right position to preach and teach, mainly by raising awareness of religious beliefs and encouraging tolerance within communities. Their role is thus to foster the development of peace.

Two essential elements of religious life are paramount to peacemaking: empathy and compassion. Mercy draws from these attributes the strength for effective peacemaking.

There is a link between our Christian faith and peace. Certain religious characteristics are associated with peace, for example, when a country has a dominant religious group. Individualised education programmes achieve higher levels of peace in countries without dominant religious groups and with fewer government restrictions on religion.

Christian religion also leads to development. Religion affects economic decision-making by establishing social norms and shaping individual personalities. Companies in highly religious communities adhere to ethical standards conducive to a stable economy.

Christian religion is, therefore, an essential key to the development of society. Religion fulfils several functions for society. These include (a) giving meaning and purpose to life, (b) strengthening social unity and stability, (c) acting as an agent of social control over behaviour, (d) promoting physical and psychological well-being, and (e) motivating people to work for positive social change. Ecumenical, interfaith and intercultural dialogue can make an enormous contribution to this.

Consider the contributions of the Christian religion to society: it reinforces individuals, families, communities and society as a whole. It has a significant impact on educational and professional achievement. It reduces the incidence of major social problems, such as out-of-wedlock births, drug and alcohol abuse, crime and delinquency.

Therefore, the Church’s role in maintaining societal peace and security is essential. It has always taught its members the action of non-reprisal, as Jesus himself taught; this helps to absorb violence rather than leading to its escalation. As a result, every cycle of violence that provokes revenge, which in turn provokes more violence, is broken by the simple act of tolerance, dialogue and non-retaliation.

Christians are, therefore, those who follow and put into practice the teachings of Christ in all areas of their lives. One of the summits of Christianity, or Christian virtue, is peace. The Bible urges Christians to embrace and live in peace with their neighbours.

Reconciliation in Kenya during the post-election period 2008-2013

The Church’s peace-building, reconciliation and restoration process was launched by forming the Kenya Bishops’ Conference Commission because it could not be left alone in the hands of politicians. The Church was called to a ministry of reconciliation and exercised a spiritual mandate following the electoral crisis. The Church closely monitored the process to ensure that it genuinely aimed at achieving national healing, not simply a whitewash to sweep past injustices under the carpet for political expediency. The Church used the pulpit to teach and preach genuine forgiveness and reconciliation and to encourage people to participate in a just and comprehensive way of dealing with the past so that the nation could truly be healed of its many wounds. The Church had an ongoing responsibility to heal the trauma of past violence between its members.

The social realities within societies were taken seriously. Conflicts must be seen as events not isolated in their social context. The peacemaking techniques used by the Church in the post-election period from 2008 to 2013 focused on the structural aspects of restoring or building relationships between former rivals.

This approach assumes that equal interaction between the parties and economic and political restructuring leads to new bonds of cooperation that stabilise peaceful relations. The Church has focused on structural elements such as exchanging representatives in various political, economic and cultural spheres. Maintaining formal and regular communication channels and an essential part of the structural actions promoted by the Church consisted of treating the other party with respect, justice, equality and sensitivity to its needs and objectives.

By: François-Xavier Bigeziki, M.Afr.

Experiencing the Ascension in Jerusalem

Placing the Ascension of the Lord Jesus on the summit of the Mount of Olives is not just a fulfillment of religious traditions, but a profound testament to the significance of this mountain. The history and geography of the Holy Land illuminate why the Mount of Olives is the custodian of the memory of this pivotal event in our salvation.

The Scriptures tell us of two places where our Lord ascended. After the Resurrection, the Risen Lord met his disciples in Galilee (Matthew 28:16). The Acts of the Apostles situates the site of the Ascension at the summit of the Mount of Olives in the east of Jerusalem (Acts of the Apostles 1, 9-12).

The northern part of the Mount of Olives is known by several names: “The hunter’s vineyard” in Arabic, KARM ES SAYAD and “Little Galilee” in Greek tradition. The words VIRI GALILAEI (in Latin: men of Galilee) are an allusion to the words addressed to the apostles in Acts 1:11: “People of Galilee, why do you stand there looking up to heaven?

So why the Mount of Olives and not Mount Zion?

The choice of the Mount of Olives was no accident. Jesus appropriated the whole of human history to bring it to perfection. The Mount of Olives is the guardian of Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions.

The Mount of Olives was called HAR HAMISHKHA, ‘Mount of Unction’ during the Second Temple, possibly in memory of the anointing of Solomon, crowned king in an improvised ceremony held in a hurry near the spring of Gihôn in the city of David. The way this ceremony is recounted in the first book of Kings foreshadows Jesus’ solemn entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday: “They (Zadok the Priest, Nathan the Prophet…) put Solomon on King David’s mule and went down to Gihon. Then Zadok, the priest, took the horn of oil from the Tent and anointed Solomon; the horn was blown, and all the people shouted: “Long live King Solomon! And the people played the flute and rejoiced with great joy and shouted as though the earth would burst” (1 Kings 1:38-40). The same thing will happen on Palm Sunday: Jesus will come from Bethphage, on the other side of the Mount of Olives, riding on a colt; descending the Mount, he will cross the Kidron valley to go up the Temple Mount and enter Jerusalem. Then the people accompanied him, shouting joyfully, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord…”. (Mark 11, 9)

The “Mount of Unction” is named for the olive oil produced there. Olives from this mountain were used to make oil, which was used to anoint kings and prophets and for liturgical celebrations in the Temple. Jesus is God’s anointed par excellence. It is only natural that he should ascend to heaven, where he is seated at the right hand of God the Father on the Mount of Unction.

Many Jews wanted to be buried on the western side of the Mount of Olives. Believing that being buried opposite the Temple Mount meant resting on safe ground for the Last Judgement. Indeed, the prophet Zechariah foretold that on that day, history would be fulfilled: “The feet of the Lord will rest on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem to the east. Then the Lord my God will come, and all the saints with him” (Zechariah 14:4-5). Zechariah’s prophecy speaks of “the feet of the Lord”. Today, in the Sanctuary of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives, there is a stone bearing the footprints of Jesus as he ascended to heaven.

The importance of the Mount of Olives is also recognised in the Muslim tradition. In Sura 1, verse 6 mentions the straight path: “Lead us in the straight path”. The term “straight path” is called “sirat” and has two meanings, depending on the era. In ancient Islam, it meant the right path or the path to be followed. In medieval Islam, it was given added spatial significance: the right path was associated with the bridge that would link the Mount of Olives to the Mount of the Temple when the Messiah comes. Here, the Muslim tradition is similar to the Jewish tradition. Still, with a twist: at the Last Judgement, all the believers of ALLAH buried on the Mount of Olives will be resurrected and have to cross a bridge built over seven arches linking it to the Temple Mount. The “righteous” will cross the bridge without difficulty, while the “unrighteous” will fall into the Kidron. And so, there are Muslim graves in the Kidron Valley, in the shadow of the ramparts close to the esplanade of the Al Aqsa Mosque, around the Golden Gate, the gate through which, according to Jewish tradition, the Messiah must pass to enter the Temple and pronounce judgement.

Today, the Sanctuary of the Ascension is managed and guarded by Muslims. It is an exceptional site, as it is used as a mosque and, depending on the occasion, as a Christian church. Inside the mosque is the stone bearing the footprints of Jesus as he ascended to heaven, as mentioned above. This is how Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions unite on Mount Olives.

The Feast of the Ascension today

Jesus chose a mountain with olive trees, a mountain outside Jerusalem just a short distance from the holy city. He did not choose Mount Zion, which is in the city. He kept the symbol of the olive tree, a tree typical of the Mediterranean basin, a tree God gave to his people together with the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 6, 10-12). The olive tree is like the tree that “bears fruit in its season, and its leaves never die” (Psalm 1, 3). It is also the symbol of the righteous and peace since it is always green and bears fruit only after careful, patient nurturing, in other words, after a long period of peace. According to Jewish tradition, the olive branch brought to Noah’s Ark by the dove after the flood waters had receded came from the Mount of Unction.

Olive oil, the fruit of the olive tree and human labour, is food, perfume, medicine and essential for lighting lamps. This rich symbolism is abundantly repeated in the sacraments of the Church (CCC nos. 1293 and 695), which bring us into the realities beyond. Therein lies the spirituality of the Ascension. Once sanctified by the presence and, above all, the blessing of Christ, our earthly realities are lifted up to heaven: “He who was taken from you, the same Jesus, will come just as you saw him go up to heaven” (Acts 1:11).

Jews, Christians and Muslims all believe that the Messiah will return. In response to a question from a participant in the session, here at Saint Anne’s in Jerusalem, to a rabbi about the coming of the Messiah, the rabbi replied: “When the Messiah comes, we will ask him if this is the first time he has come into the world, or if it is the second time.

By: Grégoire Milombo, M.Afr.

Remembering the Blessed White Fathers of Tizi-Ouzou

How do people remember them today?

Founded in 1874, six years after the creation of the Society, the community of Tizi-Ouzou remains our oldest still active community. It was in this community that our four confreres, Alain, Charles, Jean and Christian, Missionaries of Africa, were murdered on 27 December 1994. They were courageous and zealous missionaries who devoted their lives to the end; they are now counted among the greatest martyrs of love. They were beatified on 8 December 2018 in Oran, Algeria, along with 15 other people. They were respected because of their dedication to the mission and love for Algeria and its people. We know the privileges and challenges of living in this same community.

A feeling of gratitude and recognition

It will be precisely 30 years, on 27 December 2024, since our confreres were murdered in their community home, but people still talk about them as if it were yesterday. We know that Blessed Alain, Charles, Jean and Christian were firmly committed to Algerian society when schools and training centres were still under non-national charge.

Charles Deckers, the most emblematic of the four, trained several students who passed through the vocational training centre he was in charge of. These students, now managers and senior officials in the Algerian government, never cease to remind us that Charles Deckers trained them; some are already retired. Some of these people are writers and have devoted dozens of pages to Charles Deckers in books published at some point in their careers. We are still in close contact with these people.

Charles Deckers left his mark on the town of Tizi-Ouzou through his service and generosity: the vocational training centre he ran produced hundreds of students who subsequently became leaders at all levels of the Algerian nation. The people, including those in the surrounding towns and villages, knew and appreciated Charles. He became a national of Algeria in 1972, with pride in his roots there.

Jean and Alain were engaged in pastoral visits to families, especially in the mountains of Kabylia. We still receive testimonies from some people recalling their family memories of the Blessed.

We don’t hear much about Christian, though. He was the youngest of the four; we know he was behind the library project, which, unfortunately, he did not see through to completion. Today, dozens of people have subscribed to the Library: Algerian professionals, students and researchers in medicine, linguistics and other subjects, although there has been a decline in subscriptions in recent years.

Annual celebration

We issue an invitation every 27 December to commemorate the anniversary of their assassination, and the feedback is always positive, with many people visiting the cemetery to commemorate them. Algeria is a country that celebrates its martyrs, and our confreres are among them.

Thanks to all the life testimonies we receive, we think their memory is still alive. People are thankful and have never forgotten the actions of our martyrs. Their gratitude is also expressed in the fact that they still maintain links with the present-day community of the White Fathers in Tizi-Ouzou.

The challenge of living in the footsteps of the Blessed

The missionary activity of Tizi-Ouzou dates from 1874 to the present day. It has been the work of several generations. Today, our presence is still worthy of appreciation, albeit from a different perspective than that adopted by our predecessors, adapted to the current socio-cultural context and the needs of those around us.

We often face the challenge of comparison. Some people compare how the Blessed lived with how we live today. This is an encouragement to do our best and imitate their footsteps, even though we know their opportunities were not the same as those we have today. On the other hand, comparing their lives with ours today forces us to live in the shadow of our predecessors.

Besides the above, today, there is the question of the origin of our confrères on the spot. Twenty years ago, people were still used to seeing only European confreres, whereas for the last ten years or so, we have been of African origin and younger than our predecessors. It sometimes brings misunderstandings and questions for some since they link the membership of the White Fathers to the question of colour. Some people even say that there are no more White Fathers here in Tizi-Ouzou. It’s a challenge we’re trying to meet through our dedication to the mission and heritage bequeathed to us by our elders.

We are responding to this challenge thanks to the encouraging testimonies of some former friends and pupils of the White Fathers. For example, a former pupil of the White Fathers gave a striking and encouraging testimonial after celebrating the 29th anniversary: “I saw Father Philippe dressed in a gandoura at the cemetery! It reminded me of the old days when the White Fathers dressed in the gandoura. They were all white. But when I saw Father Philippe dressed in white, even though he is not white, I understood why they are called the White Fathers: not because of the colour of their skin, but because of their white garb. I hope that all the White Fathers will wear their white gandoura at the next commemoration.” Here’s another testimony from an elderly man: “This is a place of pilgrimage! We have come to commemorate those who gave their lives for the good of all, and we are happy to meet the White Fathers who now live in this house; they remind us of the dedication of the four White Fathers.”

From commemorating the four White Fathers to remembering the former White Fathers

Some of those who attended the commemorations never knew any of the four White Fathers. They came to the commemorations of the four White Fathers to remember also those who preceded them. The names of Fathers Louis Garnier, Jean Robichon, and Georges Rogé are recurrent in the testimonies of all those present. The three are buried in the Tizi-Ouzou Christian cemetery, along with three of our four Blessed.  

By: Benoît Mwana Nyembo, M.Afr. & Philippe Dakono, M.Afr. 

Caring for the Common Good

Through the internalisation of relational and rational rules, social philosophy presents man as an exclusively social being. For Michel Tournier, man “carries within him a complex scaffolding”. As a result, man has a vocation to build himself by constructing his community, his society and his environment. In this respect, to rethink ecology today, man must become aware of his mission to defend human life from conception to death, and all forms of life on earth. However, it is imperative to mention that in the current era, the earth is facing several major challenges. These make living conditions difficult. In his encyclical Laudato Si’, Pope Francis highlights the irresponsible use of the heritage of creation. For him, the earth “cries out because of the damage we are causing it through the irresponsible use and abuse of the goods that God has placed in it” (LS no. 2). This cry takes many forms today: people devastated, oppressed, mistreated, misunderstood, judged; an environment neglected. It is important, therefore, that in celebrating ecology, we think about and take palliative action in the face of these scourges suffered by the earth, our communities and the whole of humanity. To achieve this, we need to put two things into practice: we need to do everything we can to preserve the common good, and we need to have a strong desire to change the current order.

Doing everything to preserve the common good

From an ecological community perspective, wanting to do good means establishing a close link between what we say and what we do; it also means adopting a way of living and acting that can put an end to irresponsible acts and practices that are harmful to the earth, and consequently to mankind. It also means encouraging values that facilitate life and peaceful coexistence between people, and between people and the earth. It’s about putting an end to hatred and depraved morals. It’s time to experience the thirst for love, justice and social equity. It’s a time to pool our energies to combat the pollution of the earth and our social, intellectual, ethnic and racial differences. It’s also a time to opt for a tried and tested method of doing good, crowned by: sharing, charity, solidarity, mutual trust, raising awareness of climate change; all with a view to making the earth, our communities and our society a better place to live.

An ardent desire to change the current order

Change is a project that takes place in a dynamic context. However, it only begins when we make our first effort to improve things. Each of us may have a vision of what that change should be: what about me? It’s highly likely that we don’t manage to excel in life, not because we’re incapable of doing so, but rather because we lack confidence in the materialisation of our ideas and projects. So it’s time to use our strengths, our thoughts and our intellectual abilities to build a better future. John Masson, in his book Imitation is limitation, says this: We cannot become what we need by remaining what we are.

Change requires personal and community awakening. If we want to live in a perfect environment or in a community that bears witness to the love and joy of the Gospel, we must undoubtedly conform to the requirements, objectives and duties of our community, in the context of the Missionaries of Africa, i.e. conform to the community project. Perhaps the dream of the majority of missionaries in Africa is to see this society improve positively by responding without hindrance to missionary needs. Celebrating ecology today means reviewing the way we treat our brothers and sisters. It means thinking about a new society with renewed confreres. It means making our communities pleasant for everyone. It also means making our little Society a family for all, where everyone has a place and can express themselves, act, denounce and announce a better tomorrow. But it would be more concrete to see each of its members give body and soul to this ultimate goal. It was not for nothing that Cardinal Lavigerie insisted on the Esprit de Corps. In one of his letters, we read: “My last recommendation, my dear sons, the most important of the three, the one without which all the others would be useless, is the recommendation of the old apostle of Ephesus: Filioli, diligite invicem. Love one another. Remain united, united in heart, united in thought. Truly form a single family; be strongly esprit de corps in the Christian and apostolic sense of the word. Defend one another, support one another, always help one another. May discord never penetrate among you; may you always be ready to defend each other as one man, against all outside adversaries, your persons; in a word, may you not only be united, but one” (Cardinal Lavigerie, 11 November 1874).

Today, we have to ask ourselves how many people are really on this quest? How many bear false witness in order to harm or discourage others? How many give of themselves to lift others up?

 

                                                               By: Guscard Igunzi, (theology student, Limete/ Kinshasa)

Our Lady of Africa, Mother of Hope

Our Lady of Africa basilica, Algeria

In the litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we invoke Mary, Mother of Hope. As we go about our daily lives, with its ups and downs, joys and sorrows, happiness and unhappiness, kindness and violence, laughter and suffering, life can quickly lose its taste and meaning without hope. Then, we are lost and desperate. If we don’t want to lose hope, we need to remain rooted in the one who is the source of life, the source of hope.

“We were saved, but it was in hope”, writes Saint Paul to the Romans (8:24); he is saying this to us, too. “Redemption was offered to us in the sense that we received hope, a reliable hope, by which we can face our present” (cf. Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, 2007). Our present, however painful, includes distressing situations of loss of life, of suffering in wars, conflicts and tensions like those we are experiencing or seeing in Gaza, eastern Congo (DRC), Ukraine, Somalia, Burma (Myanmar), Sudan, the Sahel region, Yemen and the Red Sea region, to mention just a few current cases.

Faced with all these unpleasant situations (especially when we can do nothing about them alone), only hope can keep us going. Just like mothers, who often instil hope in their children, Mary, Our Lady of Africa and mother of us all, never ceases to intercede for us during these uncertain times.

Our world today is tormented by an absence of authentic leadership, which, instead of doing everything possible to stop wars, violence, tensions and conflicts of all kinds, stirs them up, notwithstanding the technological breakthroughs that ought to make us better, not worse, human beings. Our faith experience shows us that Mary “shines like a light that attracts all nations to God” (cf. the readings for the Solemnity of Our Lady of Africa, 30 April); these nations, walking in the light of the Lord under the protection of Mother Mary, are illuminated by Him.

Madame-Afrique’s experience in Algiers

The Basilica of Notre Dame d’Afrique is located on a promontory 124 m above sea level in the commune of Bologhine to the west of Algiers. It is a captivating sight! This imposing architectural edifice, built over 14 years, is nicknamed “Madame Afrique” or “Lalla Myriem” by the locals. It’s often easier and more understandable to the locals if you ask them how to get there when you say “Madame Afrique”. The main construction work on this historic basilica was carried out under the episcopate of Mgr Pavy between 1858 and 1866. Cardinal Lavigerie completed the job in 1872 and entrusted it to the Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers).

Back in the 1930s, pilgrims from almost all over Algeria and the surrounding area climbed the hill barefoot, reciting the rosary aloud to seek consolation, protection or healing or to make or fulfil a vow. Fishermen would have their nets blessed; people went there to offer gifts after a good harvest, to renew their baptismal promises, and to have young children blessed. Candles or bunches of flowers were often provided to young Catholic, sometimes Jewish, or even Muslim couples, invoking Lalla Myriem and relying on her intercession in all circumstances (cf. Homily by Father Patient Bahati, 30 April 2020, in Rome).

As in the past, hundreds of people visit the Basilica of Notre-Dame d’Afrique daily in Algeria. Among them are barren women, pregnant women, schoolchildren wanting to pass their BAC exams or other competitive examinations, people suffering in body or soul, or simply on courtesy/curiosity visits; these people come to light a candle and pray quietly, invoking Mary in silent recollection. Although the majority of these people are from Algeria, a good number come from elsewhere and entrust themselves to the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Africa, a source of joy and mother of hope for all.

The many testimonies of answered prayers and graces obtained are expressed through the ex-votos covering the walls of this lively and prayerful basilica, a symbol of inter-religious dialogue which has now instituted an annual Marian Day. The stone plaques engraved on these walls, in every language and from every era, bear witness to the fact that God never forgets the pleas of sincere and just souls: he always grants his countless graces.

Beyond the graces obtained through physical visits to Our Lady, countless graces are also obtained by all those who invoke her intercession far beyond the land of Algeria, where the basilica is located. In other words, Mary intercedes for Africa and the whole world. She wants the well-being of all her children without exception. This is confirmed by her various apparitions in many places around the world: at Lourdes in France, at Guadalupe in Mexico, at Kibeho in Rwanda, at Fatima in Portugal, at Zeitoun in Egypt, at Akita in Japan, etc.).

François Varillion reminds us in his book Humility of God that “God is pure gratuitousness”: he communicates his grace to us freely without calculation, often through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, who makes no differences or prejudices between her children.

Mary, star of hope, intercedes for us

Mary, mother of God, mother of the Church and mother of humanity, never ceases to intercede for a starry hope. The best illustration of Mother Mary as a star of hope can be found in Pope Benedict XVI’s Encyclical Letter Spe Salvi (Hope Saves Us). Mary is evoked in the following terms towards the end of this beautiful exhortation: “For over a thousand years, the Church has greeted Mary, Mother of God, as “Star of the Sea” in a hymn dating from the seventh to the ninth centuries: Ave Maris Stella. Our life is a journey. Life is like a voyage on the sea of history, often obscure and stormy, like the one we see these days, a voyage on which we look to the stars to show us the way, like the Magi. The true stars in our lives are those who have followed the stars of righteousness, love and truth, justice and peace, and reconciliation, to mention only these Christian and human values. True stars are beacons of hope. Jesus Christ is the TRUE light that enlightens the world, even if the world sometimes prefers darkness to the light of Christ. Jesus is not only the true light but also the sun that rises over all the darkness of history. However, we also need the little lights of others to reach him. And who more than Mary could be the star of hope for us all – she who by her ‘yes’ opened the door of our world to God himself; she who became the living Ark of the Covenant, in which God became flesh, became one of us, and pitched his tent among us (cf. Jn 1:14)?” (Spe Salvi, 2007, no. 49).

In conclusion, our humanity on pilgrimage to this earth, our common home, should be inspired by the wisdom of the words of the fourth Eucharistic prayer for special circumstances, entitled “Jesus went about doing good”. This profound prayer calls upon God to ensure that the Church is “a living witness to truth and freedom, to justice and peace, so that all humanity may rise to a new hope”. May we allow ourselves to be challenged and inspired by the depth of this prayer through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Africa, mother of hope.

By: Vincent Kyererezi, M.Afr.